You know how it is – there’s several things that go to make up a really good evening at a restaurant. There’s the food, of course, but there’s also the ambiance and the service. And the company. The restaurant is in a barn conversion. Now that might not be surprising as Stoke Bliss is in the back of beyond of rural Worcestershire. But it’s been done so well with the original wood beams and brickwork in place, but an entirely modern feel to the room. And an open kitchen, so you can keep an eye on “goings on”. And there’s spacious tables and comfortable chairs. The hospitality is warm; the service absolutely on the ball (with a star sommelier). And the food? Yeah, let me tell you about the food.
It’s a five course tasting menu. Now, for us, five courses are about as long as we want it to get. Much more and it can become an ordeal. And even with five, there’s a risk you’re not keen on something or, even, that a dish just doesn’t work. Not here. This was a literally faultless meal and it’s a rarity for us to say that, even at Michelin star level (as Pensons rightly is).
There’s a couple of snacks to start. A single bite cheese tart – perfectly crisp pastry and a powerful “bite” from Worcestershire Hop cheddar (we bought some of the cheese from the Mousetrap in Ludlow on the way home next day). And long cooked beef cheek, in a crisp crumb, topped with the earthy sweetness of beetroot chutney. Then there’s bread. A mini loaf each, with a really crisp crust, served with a yeast butter.
The first course featured raw scallops, topped with diced celeriac and crispy, fried shreds of celeriac. There’s a sweetness from a chicory jam and a little background heat from a drizzle of chilli oil. That’s followed by “Mushroom” - a white mushroom puree, topped with shimoji mushrooms and artichoke slices. It’s finished with hazelnuts, sourdough breadcrumbs and a couple of slices of Wiltshire truffle.
A fish course next and, perhaps, our favourite dish of the evening. A small fillet of brill which was, erm, brill. Perfectly cooked and perfect accompaniments – a watercress puree, charred cauliflower and Little Gem lettuce. And, for contrast, a fine dice of pickled apples. It’s all finished with a crab butter sauce. It just came together so well. Magnificent.
And a final savoury course of lamb. There’s two slices of perfectly pink loin, lamb ragu, a braise which had then been shredded and compressed back into a rectangle, and a sweetbread. To finish the plate, there’s a couple of spears of the very first of the British asparagus, presumably grown under cover, a little wild garlic leaf and some chopped pine nuts.
Dessert was also very seasonal. There was a thin slice of what I think was a spiced gingerbread. That’s topped with rhubarb, dots of spiced cream, a little chopped walnut and blood orange. Alongside, there’s a rhubarb sorbet. Does it work well? Yes, of course, it works well.
We finished with good coffee and petit fours – a fudge and a chocolate toffee (think a posh Rolo).
We stayed overnight in one of their two rooms and were served a really good breakfast. Deffo beats the 18 mile drive that would have taken us to the nearest Premier Inn.